HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. — At many points in tonight’s presidential debate, Mitt Romney seemed to be expending more energy sparring with the moderator, CNN’s Candy Crowley, than with President Barack Obama. The multiple moments where Mr. Romney argued with Ms. Crowley drew audible reactions in the audience and among the reporters in the media filing room. Mr. Romney’s squabbles with Ms. Crowley also made him seem shaken by the president’s attacks after a debate in which Mr. Romney was widely seen as the victor and the president was criticized as insufficiently aggressive.
Mr. Romney first found himself arguing with Ms. Crowley after he disputed the Obama campaign’s contention that he would have allowed the auto industry to go bankrupt.
“He keeps saying, you want to take Detroit bankrupt,” Mr. Romney said of his opponent. “Well, the president took Detroit bankrupt.”
President Obama responded by saying, “What Governor Romney said just isn’t true.”
“He wanted to take them into bankruptcy without providing them any way to stay open,” said the president. “And we would have lost a million jobs.”
After President Obama’s remarks, Ms. Crowley attempted to ask him the next question. Mr. Romney interrupted her asking to respond to “that Detroit answer.”
Ms. Crowley stopped Mr. Romney assuring him “you certainly will have lots of time here coming up.”
That was the first of many such exchanges. The next came after President Obama labeled his energy policies “not an energy strategy for the future. Ms. Crowley attempted to move on to a new topic, but Mr. Romney implored her to let him continue on energy.
“He actually got the first question. So I get the last question–last answer,” Mr. Romney said.
“In the follow up, it doesn’t quite work like that,” Ms. Crowley countered.
During these exchanges, President Obama adopted an air of amusement, adding to the impression his rival was going off the rails. At one point, Mr. Romney attempted to return to a previous topic when a questioner in the town hall-style event asked him, “What is the biggest difference between you and George W. Bush.”
As Mr. Romney tried to address the previous question saying, “I think I was supposed to get that last answer.”
“I don’t think so, Candy,” Mr. Obama said.
“Go ahead and use this two minutes any way you’d like to,” Ms. Crowley said to Mr. Romney.
Though Ms. Crowley also cut Mr. Obama short at several points in the evening, he avoided getting into the kind of lengthy back-and-forths with her that Mr. Romney often became mired in. These exchanges left Mr. Romney seemingly stammering and appearing genuinely hobbled by the president’s verbal jabs. President Obama certainly survived the debate without the impression he lacked energy in the face of Mr. Romney that cost him in the polls after the first debate. Indeed, Mr. Romney’s multiple appeals to Ms. Crowley may have helped the president score a debate win that could help him get back on top in the final moments of this presidential race.